Boeing 777 freighter launch customer Air France is sticking to delivery timelines for the five it has on order, despite the downturn in the cargo market.

US carrier FedEx, which has 15 777Fs on order, is deferring delivery of its first by up to 17 months. But an Air France Cargo spokesman says that - while the carrier is having to suspend its dedicated freight route to Guangzhou in China - it has no plans to defer its 777s or ground any aircraft.

The French carrier's first 777F was due for delivery in October 2008, but the Boeing machinists' strike pushed this back to next month. "This [order] has already been delayed by two months and they then need to perform plenty of test flights for the FAA," says the spokesman. "They seem to be a bit late with that.

"We will probably receive it in February and start flying it in March. We are limited by Boeing's capacity to deliver the aircraft when it's ready."

Air France 777F 

Freight traffic has been a prominent casualty of the economic downturn. Air France-KLM is suspending its Guangzhou cargo flights because the traffic "has not been exceptional", despite initially being "very successful".

"It is not a cancellation, it's just a suspension until the situation becomes better, and then we will resume flights," says the spokesman, adding that this is the only service being halted.

Air France-KLM is forming a Guangzhou-based cargo carrier under a joint venture with China Southern, but this is unaffected.

"[The joint venture] is progressing in the right direction and is going well. Strategy is one thing, circumstances are something else," says the spokesman.

Air France Cargo, which operates dedicated freight flights to 50 destinations, makes up 50% of the airline's freight capacity. The division will take delivery of three 777 freighters this year. The remaining two aircraft will be delivered in 2010 and 2011.

The 777Fs will be used to replace Air France's five 747BCFs one-for-one. They will operate alongside Air France's five 747-400ERFs, which the spokesman says are not presently slated for replacement. Air France is to keep its cargo fleet at 10 aircraft. Sister carrier KLM operates four 747-400ERFs.

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news